As a woman, what do you need to feel beautiful?
For some, wearing four-inch stilettos and chandelier earrings are enough to give them the extra confidence boost. For Alicia Keys, however, beauty is about feeling comfortable in her natural skin.
Back in May, Keys made the commitment to uncover her face. In her Lenny letter, the inspirational woman talks about how she had a revelation when a photographer, Paola, began shooting her in a sweatshirt and no makeup. “It was just a plain white background, me and the photographer intimately relating, me and that baseball hat and scarf and a bunch of invisible magic circulating,” Keys writes. “And I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt.”
She has since been posting barefaced Instagram and Twitter selfies and has appeared on every episode of The Voice completely makeup-free. Because of this, fans and other celebrities have praised her for such a bold move. As a 15-time Grammy Award winner, a current judge on the voice and a woman, Keys is constantly under scrutiny. She is always being photographed, especially by paparazzi that love catching celebrities off-guard.
And Keys even admits that before her decision to forgo makeup, “every time [she] left the house, [she] would be worried if [she] didn’t put on makeup.” She’d ask herself, “What if someone wanted a picture? What if they posted it?”
These are the kinds of questions that run through women’s minds all around the world. Maybe they’re not all worried about paparazzi snapping their photos, but many of them are worried about how the public will perceive them and whether or not they’ll be “accepted” by our current culture.
According to Huffington Post, a Daily Mail survey of 3,000 women found that going to work without makeup caused them more stress than public speaking, going on a first date or sitting through a job interview. Although more than half of these women were comfortable being au naturel with their friends and family, 70 percent of the same women did not want their colleagues or supervisors seeing them makeup-free.
In response to these results, psychologist Celia Bibby explains, “Many women feel that there is a stigma associated with not wearing makeup and that their employers may discriminate against them if they don’t turn up to work dolled up.” And although it seems outrageous to think this, The New York Times reports that makeup can increase the amount of respect, trust and affection women receive at work.
However, it’s a balancing act – just like everything else in a woman’s life. Apparently, women should wear makeup to the office, but not “too much.” They should try and look “presentable,” but they shouldn’t spend hours applying gobs of mascara, foundation or lipstick.
According to the study conducted by Nancy Etcoff from Boston University, makeup can be credited as the reason people feel that a woman is capable, reliable and amiable. In the study, 149 adults, including 61 men, judged different pictures of women with different amounts of makeup. The barefaced women only received quick glances and were seen as less competent.
Unfortunately, this is the case because, as Daniel Hamermesh, economics professor at the University of Texas, tells The New York Times, “We conflate looks and a willingness to take care of yourself with a willingness to take care of people.”
Makeup helps women transform how they are perceived and how they feel about themselves. Because thousands of women already know how “dolled up” faces are observed, this knowledge helps determine how good a woman feels with or without makeup.
Not everyone can feel as “beautiful” and “empowered” as Alicia Keys does with a bare face because not everyone looks like her. Even though she’s under a great amount of scrutiny, there are other people who experience even greater judgment because their natural faces are not socially accepted as “beautiful.”
So, they put makeup on.
Thousands of products, numerous techniques and hours of practice help women enhance their natural features or cover up any “blemishes.” For example, foundation helps even skin tone, contouring can accentuate the angles in your face and the perfect winged liner can enhance your look.
Not only that, but the regular application of makeup can also help a person’s self-esteem. As Tracy Rohrbaugh, vice president of marketing at Revlon says (via PR Newswire), “Rituals can be powerful – performing them can actually change the way you feel.” A study released by Revlon and Fordham University actually shows that when women perform a simple daily makeup ritual, this routine act can “enhance a woman’s emotional state.”
Although there’s still a critique of women becoming “too dependent” on makeup or using makeup as a “security blanket,” these studies aren’t actually saying that makeup is a bad thing. Makeup is a widely accepted method of transformation, as seen with the #PowerofMakeup movement.
Even if it shouldn’t be seen as such a feat to walk out of the house without any makeup on, that’s how a lot of people see it. Because of this, Jessica Valenti from the Guardian argues, “There’s something very strange about praising women for daring to show their … normal human faces.” To Valenti, celebrities who are “considered beautiful to begin with” shouldn’t be called “brave” for not wearing makeup.
But although this is a valid argument (one that was also made earlier in the article), Alicia Keys’ letter reveals that personal judgments are more powerful than those made by other people. Even if Keys is accepted as a naturally beautiful woman, she didn’t always feel that way.
Thus, as inspirational women Hari Nef, transgender model, says to New York Mag, “[Alicia Keys’ move] is definitely political. I’ve done red carpets before without makeup, and I felt very vulnerable after, looking at the photos. You know, it’s hard to break the norm like she is; it’s difficult. But I think the fact that she’s doing it, and the fact that she looks good doing it, is a great statement.”
As a transgender woman, Nef is acutely aware of the judgments that come with the labels: woman, feminine and beautiful. She explains, “I think that you need to balance feminine, patriarchal beauty ideals while simultaneously understanding how they can make you safe, make you feel safe and open up certain doors for you that would have been closed.”
All in all, wearing no makeup comes at a price, one that costs more depending on who you are, what you look like and where you come from. Whether you’re a female celebrity, an “average” woman or a transgender woman, you can understand the burden, responsibility and pain that come with carrying the label of “woman.” People are still praising Alicia Keys for doing what she’s doing because they understand how terrifying and uncomfortable being barefaced can be.
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